Turn B2B Buying Into a Social Experience


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B2B marketing and sales has lived in a neat framework centered on the purchase transaction. In some industries and marketplaces, this purchase transaction has been fairly straight forward. In others, there has been a mix of complex buying and selling cycles put into play to ultimately reach a purchase transaction. That is, until now. These days are certainly the best of times and could be the worst of times. The key lies in how well you and your organization are responding to the most transformative changes in B2B buying we’ve seen in several decades at least.

B2B buyers are increasingly thinking less in terms of a transaction and more about the experience. In essence, this transformation is creating a mandate for B2B companies to adjust their approach to marketing and sales accordingly. It requires evaluating what approaches align with today’s social buyer personas and what spend should be devoted to providing a social experience. A key to aligning with today’s B2B buyers is to learn as much as you can about the buyer journey that is unique to your segments, marketplaces, and buyer personas. By doing so, a B2B organization can learn about the potential interactions social buyers desire that make up the entire social experience.

A funny thing is also happening along the way to this transformation in B2B Buying. It is very easy in today’s multi-media blast we receive daily on social media to think of the word social in terms of just the social technology platforms. It turns out, that these technologies are only one of many components making up the social experience. What we may be heading towards is thinking in terms of social engagement. Social technologies, in effect, are enabling bringing “social” into the B2B domain like never before. Enhancing not only technology enabled engagements that can be found through such platforms as Twitter and Linked-In as well as company or industry specific platforms, but radically changing the notion of what personal engagements actually means. Just a few short years ago we were trying to figure out how to get more “personal” with email. How fast things change – there are now more social networking users than email users (Morgan Stanley, 2010).

What is going on today is B2B buyers are expecting more social experiences. “Social” meaning what enhances the relationship beyond the old perfunctory step-by-step transaction orientation that traditionally defined B2B buying and selling. The social experience is a new way of bringing the 1-to-1 customized approach to each potential opportunity and lead nurturing situation. B2B buyers today quickly discerning whether they are experiencing the traditional lock step approach to engaging or getting the social experience they are expecting. When you step back and take a hard look at what this transformation is all about (which I am gathering via qualitative interviews with buyers) you come to realize one of those moments where you exclaim – holy cow! B2B buyers, via the social experience, do actually want more personal engagement with an organization – not less! What we are learning is that personal engagement does not mean just in the context of “with a sales representative” but with the multi-dimensional make up of the entire organization. It is a reflection of the personal investment they are willing to make with you and your organization.

What exactly are B2B buyers coming to expect when it comes to social experiences? Several areas are beginning to become readily apparent:

  1. Transparency: buyers expect your organization to be an open book
  2. Collaboration: buyers want to participate in several aspects related to research and development, product development, knowledge sharing, customized servicing, and an ongoing dialogue
  3. Building: traditional transactions, simple to complex, involved a lot of presenting and receiving until the buyer basically says – I’ll take it. Today, a more intelligent and social approach means buyers and sellers working through issues simultaneously to map directly to the goals of the buying organization.
  4. Recommendations: this is becoming a two-way exchange. Buyers are expecting insightful recommendations and then the ability to share these recommendations with others socially.

B2B buyers are responding to social experiences with more personal engagement in mind. That is, they are making a personal investment in your organization socially with expected rewards. This is a profound transformation for many B2B organizations to get their heads around. This is especially true when personal engagement or personal relationship has usually been discussed in the limited framework of just the sales representative and the buyer.

One overall approach B2B companies can begin to take is to focus on how to enhance the overall buyer experience. They can begin to ponder the question of how to turn the overall buying experience into a more social experience. Doing so without confining their thinking to social technology platforms but what truly fosters more personal engagement on the part of buyers.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


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